Monday, November 28, 2016

Small Plates and Generous Blessings

On Thanksgiving,  I love to pull out my grandmother's pretty dishes.  They're fragile now, having seen countless meals and soapy sinks over the last 90 years.  They were made in the 1920's and I like to wonder about all the dinnertime conversations they've heard, all of the celebrations they've shared, and all of the changes they've witnessed, in people and in our culture.  Grandma's dishes are much smaller than my dishes.  The dinner plate is probably 2 inches smaller in diameter. The soup bowl is bigger though.  The cup and saucer are tiny.  Dessert dishes are petite, but bread and butter plates are larger than the salad plates.  There are plates and bowls for everything.  Serving bowls and platters galore.

I remember getting them out for suppers at my grandparents' home when I'd go stay with them.  They were created during a simpler time for simpler appetites. When people had bread and milk, fruit preserves, cheese and onion, and buttermilk for supper.  I remember those suppers.  A little fruit in a bowl, some cottage cheese in another, a slice of homemade bread with butter, a glass of milk, and a slice of onion.  Every single night.  Sunday dinners at Grandma's were always roasted chicken, a small serving bowl of potatoes, lots of vegetables, bottled fruit, and dependably pie.  One roasted chicken fed everyone.  The plates were small and the portions were small.  And nobody died.  Now our plates are large, people are larger, and attitudes enormous. My grandparents were not poor by any means, but they were educated, intelligent, God-fearing, simple, and grateful.  They lived to be in their 90's and they were happy, smart, healthy, and worthy.  Small plates worked for them.

I have learned some lessons while washing my grandma's dishes.  One is that paper plates are never right for dinner unless you're camping or Mom is in the hospital.  There's something ritualistic about getting them out of the cupboard, placing them on the table, making the table look pretty, looking at the pretty little flowers during the meal, remembering all the other meals eaten on the dishes, and then carefully washing them and gingerly putting them away until next time.  Another lesson is that small plates are good.  Nobody needs to eat as much as they want to.  Food is to keep us alive, not entertain us as a hobby.  And pretty things are important in a world that's vulgar, loud, and selfish.

I used to feel badly about myself when I'd listen to friends or family talk (or complain) about all they had to do, all their projects and responsibilities.  Some were so organized it made my head spin. Soon I was convinced that I was some sort of malfunctioning and defective woman because I wasn't tackling all that others seemed to be handling with ease.  I wasn't the PTA president while raising 14 kids, taking 12 of them to soccer and 9 to piano lessons, making dance costumes, dishing out freezer meals on paper plates, keeping an immaculate house, planning homeroom parties for 6 kids on the same day, organizing service projects for the neighborhood, singing in the choir, teaching aerobics at 4 a.m., shopping with coupons so my groceries were free at checkout, remodeling a home by myself and installing my own counter tops, working on a cure for cancer, and keeping scrapbooks current for all said children.  

I was sitting in on violin lessons for two hours every week for two children, taking them every week to the library to get their 14 books each and reading those books so many times I still have them memorized.  I was studying scriptures to learn more about God so I could teach my children both formally and when gospel metaphors arose.  I did a lot of things as a mother, but the one thing I am probably most happy about is that I dropped everything I was doing whenever my children wanted to talk to me or needed me.  I stayed up lots of nights to catch up on work that didn't get done because our conversations were long and enjoyable or long and necessary to help answer their questions about maneuvering the outside world.  I can't remember all I did because I wasn't keeping score.  I was just doing what seemed needful, necessary, and nice.

Then it hit me one day.  After everyone's children grew up the "proof was in the pudding."  Their mothers had not really been that great at mothering.  They'd been really good organizers and chauffeurs and laundresses, and super-excellent scrap-bookers, but they'd not been such good teachers, listeners or confidants.  One of my children's friends told me once that they wished their parents would just listen, or just be happy to have everyone together without over-scheduling. Another confided to me that they'd never had a gospel discussion with their parents--ever.  They'd never had a "birds and bees" discussion or been taught about handling money.  I realized that a large plate heaped with a load of food is not all it's cracked up to be---being that super-mom character is not realistic.  You cannot have it all.  You absolutely can't.  You cannot be all things to everyone and still be everything to all.  I realize that my plate is smaller than others.  But it's just as full with the few things that are important to me as the other woman's large and carefully piled plate.  My pediatrician always told me not to force my children to eat.  "They'll eat when they're hungry," he said.  It's true. When a child is hungry, they will eat.  Because food is not entertainment.  Food is life.

If my plate is smaller than yours, if I have two children and you have 24, if I can barely keep up with my household responsibilities because of chronic illness, if I'd rather read or paint than be the mom that takes the neighborhood to see Britney Spears, if my idea of Christmas vacation with my grown children is to simply sit together in the same room only looking into their faces and listening to their stories, if I'd rather cook a simple meal and think about the blessing of it than pick up takeout for the 14th time the same week, and if I'd rather have one very expensive pair of boots than 140 pairs of cheap, nondescript shoes, please don't judge me.  You might just need me to save you from your over-eating, over-indulged, over-scheduled and over-affected life when you have a nervous breakdown.

We need to stop identifying ourselves and others based on our plates and what's on them.  My plate is small.  I have physical limitations that keep me from taking a large plate and heaping it full.  Bless your soul if you have a large, piled-high plate and you can manage it well.  Please stop asking why I only have two children because I once frequently asked that same question.  It's none of your business, and you are not a better mother or woman than me just because your reproductive system is prolific.  Please don't judge my uterus or my home or what you think my bank account contains based on the overstretched limits of yours.  Please stop wondering or gossiping about how you think I look totally healthy, but I'm not. It's not for you to worry about.  You worry about your plate and I'll worry about mine.

I love my pretty flowered plate that's fragile and only holds necessary nourishment.  It's lasted and it's worked because it's been treated with respect and love and care.  It feeds my body which is a gift from God, and it feeds my soul.  With thanksgiving in my heart I express my gratitude for my beautiful, fragile, small, but infinitely important plate and all the beautiful blessings on it and that flow from it.  My plate may be small, but it is wonderful and the miracles that continue to come from it are bounteous.  Indeed, God is truly generous.  Like my grandpa used to sing: "tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall Back, Slow Down, and Turn the Page Again

Fall is here.  The summer is fast gone and the  nights are damp and chill.  The last quarter of 2016 is almost upon us.  With our son's wedding just in front of us and all the exciting changes in our family this year, I've been thinking about some of the things I've learned.

I used to laugh when my grandparents would say, "when I was your age we had to milk the cow if we wanted milk," and things like that.  In the last few years, I've heard myself saying to my children, "when I was in college, we didn't have smartphones or Google or even a home computer--we had to go to the library and use the card catalog to look up something."  That makes me feel old.  It also makes me feel very lucky and very blessed.  Why?  Because I got to experience things at a slower pace.  Not as slow as my parents and grandparents, but slow compared to now.  And I'm grateful for it.

I still like to read real books.  I like to turn the pages and make notes in the margins.  I like how they smell when they are new and when they are old.  They can be expensive and take up shelf space.  Just ask my husband.  My biggest fantasy is bookcases covering entire walls in every room of the house, filled to the rafters with books.  As it is, we have a bevy of books and bookcases already filled.  There are books on tables and desks and everywhere you look and I think we'll have to move soon to a house more suited to all these bookcases.  We do read them, too.  We don't just look at them.  The library is my other happy place.  I ran into the former head librarian of our local library a few months ago.  She has long since retired, but she remembered me and asked about my children.  I know those women must have hated seeing us coming every week, each with our own bag filled with 15 books, there to get another 15, so 45 total.  Every week, for years.  Yes, I'm sure that's why she still knows our names.

I like to talk to people on the phone and not text.  Texting is fine for, "I'm on my way home," or "can you pick up the dry cleaning."  It's not conducive to conversation.  At least not if you want to have a healthy relationship with a person. 

I like to cook real food from scratch. I love to go out for Indian or Thai food, true, but I really like to cook.  When I'm feeling up to it, I love to get in the kitchen and make mean Italian meatballs or lasagna.  Maybe Russian meat dumplings, or Irish Shepherd's Pie with real potatoes that have been peeled and mashed with lots of butter, milk, and salt.  I love to make cherry pie with the real sour cherries and crust.  My kids have never had maple syrup from the store; I've always made it while the hotcakes are on the griddle.

I like to sit out on our deck on summer evenings and eat supper from a plate on my lap, my husband and kids around me, as we visit for hours, long after the dishes are empty.  I like to draw and paint and make things with my hands.  I love to sew when I have time and don't mind the mess for a few days.  I love to write real letters on pretty paper and send them with a stamp.  

I love the technology we have today.  It makes writing this blog possible and doing my work from home a reality.  It makes it easy to buy clothes, since I never have to go the mall.  The good stores deliver, so it's all just a click away.  Technology actually allows me more time to do the slow, old-fashioned things I prefer.  Because I don't have to commute to my job, I have more time to play the piano.  Because I can write this blog in my nightgown, in bed, it's more fun to do.  And because of the internet, I have resources right at my fingertips.  No more Dewey Decimal System, even though I do miss those cards.

Not too many years ago, I turned 50, revealing that I'm more than halfway done with my life.  I'm sure I won't make it to 100, at least I hope I won't.  I'm excited for this next phase of my journey, a right of passage and reward for all I have accomplished and survived.  I feel I've earned the right to speak my mind.  Not that I ever haven't, but maybe I hadn't earned it yet.  I think I have the right to expect certain things from certain people and situations.  I think I've learned how to listen to my heart and gut and know when something is true and when it's not.  I've learned many things and I know I'll always be learning more.

A mere handful of things I've learned so far:

1.  There are always two sides to every story.  Make sure you hear both.
2.  What goes around really does come around.  Be careful what you send around.
3.  People just want to be understood.
4.  If you're tired of getting burned, don't go near the fire.
5.  People can change, but they usually don't.
6.  When someone shows you who they really are, it's best to believe them.
7.  Forgiveness is between me and Jesus; it doesn't mean I'm OK with what happened.
8.  Difficult things happen to good and wonderful people.
9.  We all will die, it's just a matter of when.  I want to be ready.
10. People are inherently good.  We were all created in God's image.
11. Getting married and having a family is my greatest accomplishment.
12. Jesus Christ is real and He keeps His promises.

Soon it will be October and it's gorgeous outside.  Our son is coming home to be married to a beautiful girl and it's going to be spectacular!  The Halloween haunted houses and hot chocolate are calling my name.  The brief days will require soups and bread, blankets and books, and burrowing down for the dark and thoughtful winter.  I'm feeling happy and grateful.  I'm remembering all my blessings and God's wondrous goodness.  It would be dreamy if things were simpler, if the world would stay away from me and I'd like more time with my family and to think.  I have need to read good books and sleep well, and steam grapes for juice come October.  I want to remain ignorant about what's on television and who is famous.  I want to look at picture albums and make new ones.  It would be terrific to learn new music for Christmas and make a few new recipes in the slow cooker.  I want time to discern what's important for me to choose in the next scene of my story.  Autumn is my favorite season and I'm thrilled it's finally here.  I'm more than ready to turn the page again.

I hope you enjoy this song, "Turn the Page Again" by Tim O'Brien.